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Election ballot count off by 300 after Foster County recounts votes

CARRINGTON — Ballots in the June 10 election for Foster County Commission were recounted Monday, and the number of physical ballots did not match the number of ballots recorded on the election machines the county used.

The recount board counted 1,153 ballots that were sealed away in the county recorder’s vault, and the poll books had 1,153 names checked off, but the number submitted to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office was 1,453.

County Auditor Teresa Risovi said she discussed the matter with the secretary of state’s office and believes a glitch or corruption in the ES&S M100 voting machines’ memory cards may be to blame.

“Since we have an even number of 300 (ballots), that number is kind of ironic because we had three machines, and I ran 100 test ballots through each machine, required by law,” Risovi said. “Now those counts, I zeroed out and I have the receipt tape — it prints out register tape — and it shows them zeroed out, and the election board members signed that.”

Risovi said three election board members were on the recount board, and they confirmed the numbers matched after the polls closed in the county’s only polling place at Carrington City Hall on June 10. The M100 has a visual display that showed the numbers matched, but Risovi believes the 100 test ballots were still on the memory cards but were erased from the machine. She said she intends to have the cards checked or replaced before the next election in November.

State’s Attorney Paul Murphy, who also attended the recount, said he plans to account for all the ballots that were ordered by the county because “nobody’s really sure where these phantom 300 votes are.”

The recount board was demanded by Foster County Commission candidate Donnie Theis after a recanvassing of the June 10 election on July 28. In the election, six candidates ran for four spots on the November ballot, with the top four vote-getters going on to race at large for the two commission seats up for grabs.

Theis had finished in fifth place behind current commission Chairman Paul Straley by 15 votes. The canvassing board threw out two ballots it had previously accepted, which shortened Straley’s lead to 13 votes and made the difference in the race exactly 2 percent, entitling Theis to demand a recount at his own expense.

Risovi said the canvassing board will meet again, possibly on Monday, to review all the ballots the county has in its physical possession.